Jewish people all over the world are set to celebrate one of the most important days in the religious calendar – even if it’s virtual.
Rosh Hashanah is a two-day religious festival which begins on Friday, commemorating the Jewish new Year and the creation of the world.
It marks the beginning of the High Holy Days (‘Days of Awe’), a 10-day period which ends with the holiday of Yom Kippur, and is usually celebrated with prayers, candle lighting and delicious food.
A special instrument made from the horn of a kosher animal – known as a shofar – is traditionally blown during synagogue services while some usually perform the atonement ritual of tashlikh on the afternoon of the first day of celebrations.
However, this year festivities will be heavily stripped back given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and curbs on social gatherings.
Here is everything you need to know about the religious holiday of Rosh Hashanah.
What is Rosh Hashanah?
Rosh Hashanah is a Jewish celebration of the creation of the earth that marks the beginning of the year, and is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, and therefore humanity.
Rosh Hashanah is also a judgement day, when Jews believe that God observes the good deeds over the last year against their bad deeds, and decides what the next year will be like for them.
God will then record this judgment in the Book of Life, detailing who is going to live, who is going to die, who will have a good time and who will have a bad time in the upcoming year.
The book and judgement are sealed on Yom Kippur, which marks the end of the “Days of Awe” – known as 10 days of Repentance.
This is the concept behind the traditional Rosh Hashanah greeting “Be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”
When is Rosh Hashanah?
This year, Rosh Hashanah will begin on the evening of Friday, September 18. The festival will end on the evening of Sunday, September 20.
The exact date varies each year as it’s based on the lunar calendar, and marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year.
Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the “Days of Awe.”
Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, begins on Sunday, September 27 and ends on the evening of Monday, September 28.
How is Rosh Hashanah celebrated?
A great deal of time may also be spent in the synagogue when there are special services that emphasise God’s kinship.
One of the synagogue rituals is the sounding of the shofar, the ram’s horn. Hearing the shofar’s call is a reminder for us to look inward and repent for the sins of the past year.
However, traditional celebratory events will be severely curtailed this year due to ongoing local lockdown curbs in Britain and the “rule of six”, banning social gatherings of more than six people indoors or outdoors.
The Government has set an exemption for religious ceremonies, allowing these to take place in groups of up to 30 in a public place, however the guidelines state: “This only covers the ceremonies, and does not include celebrations of these events.”
Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue will be closed for the first time over Jewish New Year, as Israelis brace for a second lockdown to tackle the coronavirus. Israel has recorded the world’s highest coronavirus infection rate over the past two weeks, according to a tally by the AFP news agency.
Rosh Hashanah greetings
You can wish others a Happy New Year by saying “Shana Tova”, which means “good year” in Hebrew.
Sometimes people say “shanah tovah u’metukah” which literally translates to “a good and sweet new year”.
In Hebrew, “Rosh Hashanah” translates to “the head of the year.”
What food is eaten during Rosh Hashanah?
Food is an important part of Rosh Hashanah.
Sweet foods are often eaten as they are intended to symbolise hope for a sweet and happy year ahead, such as honey cakes and apples dipped in honey.
Apples are dipped in honey and a sweet carrot stew called a tzimmes is often served.
During Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish Challah bread comes as a round loaf rather than a plaited loaf, to symbolise the continuation of life and the year ahead.
There’s also often a pomegranate on the table because of a tradition that pomegranates have 613 seeds, one for each of the commandments that a Jew is obliged to keep.